Posted by Marc Soskin on Apr 9, 2012

League of Legends: Intensity by Design (Part 2 of 2)

The source of all my nerd-rage since mid 2011.

Click here to read Part 1

Why does League of Legends make people so mad?

This was the question we were starting answer in the first part of this article. In it, we compared League of Legends to a game with similar team sizes, long play sessions and a critical emphasis on teamwork – Left 4 Dead 2. As a result, we’ve already found that League of Legends has several prominent aspects to its design that encourage competition and therefore more intense emotions. In this second part of the article, we’ll take a look at these two games from the opposite angle – what does Left 4 Dead 2 do to encourage more cooperation and therefore less intense emotions?

Rewards for Teamwork

One of the things that Left 4 Dead 2 does constantly is reward the player for teamwork. Before I explain how it does that, let me first elaborate on what exactly I mean when I say “rewards.” Rewards in games are not as straightforward as points, unlockable content or health items. A reward is anything that is intentionally gratifying to the player. Sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto are an excellent example. You don’t get anything helpful by causing random chaos, but the cartoony carnage that ensues is gratifying enough to be its own reward.

In League of Legends, most in-game rewards are centered around destroying the enemy. For example, every time you kill an enemy, you get the statistical rewards we mentioned earlier like gold and experience, but you also get something less tangible.

“You have slain an enemy!”

Hearing the announcer say that is such a gratifying sound that it’s almost enough of a reward on its own, but to make it even more satisfying, a huge announcement appears in the middle of the screen telling everyone present that you just smoked somebody. Nice! If you string several kills together, you’ll hear the announcer cry, “Double kill!” or “Triple kill!” She even says it with more enthusiasm as the number goes up, peaking at the elusive, “Penta kill!” The other time similar rewards are received are when you destroy enemy buildings, which helps your team claim victory. As you might expect, announcements that carry a twinge of disappointment occur when a teammate is killed, allied structure is destroyed, or you yourself meet your doom. Other less obvious rewards come from things like comedic death animations, the light clinking sound that occurs whenever you receive gold from killing creeps, or even just the sound of a successfully aimed skill-shot – bless your Javelin Toss, Nidalee.

Left 4 Dead 2 has these kinds of rewards as well. When you kill a special infected – which in Versus mode is an enemy player – a game-wide announcement appears on the side of the screen letting everyone know, accompanied by a satisfying sound effect. Another reward for kills is the display of ragdoll physics that follows. Watching a dead hunter twirl past your head like a Frisbee simply doesn’t get old. The game’s characters sometimes even compliment you on your shooting. So if Left 4 Dead 2 rewards the same kinds of actions as League of Legends, what’s the difference? The difference is that it expands these rewards to include actions that demonstrate teamwork. For example, every time someone protects a teammate by shooting a nearby infected that’s attacking them, a game-wide announcement is made for that as well saying, “Player 1 protected Player 2,” again accompanied by a satisfying sound effect. When someone kills a special infected that has a teammate captured a game-wide announcement is made saying “Player 1 saved Player 2.” Now here’s where things get subtle. For the player that has been saved, that message saying “Player 1 saved you,” is bright blue and appears on the middle of the screen next to a large icon of a shield if the player who saved you isn’t visible or if you’re recovering from an attack. If they are visible and you’ve recovered from the attack, that message and icon move to hover over the player that saved you. The same thing occurs for the player who did the saving, with the roles reversed so the message says “You saved Player 2,” and the message hovers over the player you saved. Notice that the action that provided the most direct help to a teammate was emphasized the most.

Similar emphasis is placed on players reviving or healing their teammates. When you’re reviving or healing a teammate, a meter appears on the middle of your screen labeled “Reviving Teammate” or “Healing Teammate”. When you’re healing someone, it tells you your target by saying “Target: Player 1.” However, for the player being healed or revived, that bit of text changes from “Target” to “Your Savior.” When the meter is filled and the healing or reviving action is complete, the “saved” announcement and sound effect occur. However, in addition the characters thank each other as an added reward. Given the focus of the Left 4 Dead franchise on its characters, the significance of this should not be overlooked. Characters also thank each other when given minor healing items like pills or adrenaline shots. As you might expect, this action is also accompanied by a global announcement and positive sound effect. In summation, players are constantly rewarded for actions that help their teammates just as much as they are for killing enemies, sometimes even more so.

Using these almost Pavlovian techniques, Left 4 Dead 2 is constantly urging its players to cooperate rather than compete. As a result, teams are less likely to turn on each other during a match, as everyone feels a shared responsibility for what occurs. When someone goes down, it’s not always their own fault, as the game has constantly reminded players that they should protect their teammates. When someone isn’t revived in time and bleeds out, everyone feels responsible for similar reasons. The player that died feels bad for dying, but everyone else also feels bad for not reviving them. In this way, the game creates a cooperative environment where both defeat and victory are shared more equally, rather than a competitive environment where blame and credit tend to go to individuals.

Team Bonding

Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu was known for – among other things – having an unusual focus around food and drink in his movies. Important conversations between characters often occur over meals or when sharing a quiet drink together. The theory behind this is that mealtime signifies a moment of recovery. It is a small window of calm where people can relax and let their vulnerabilities show without repercussions as they recuperate from the daily grind of their lives. According to Ozu, there is a sense of safety in eating. You don’t have to worry about showing weakness, and the people you eat with become the people you trust. Such a theory could, perhaps, explain why most dates include a meal. In Left 4 Dead 2, teammates do not share a meal together, but there are many moments that echo what the meal signifies in an Ozu film. As a result, it provides the players with many opportunities to bond as a team.

Although both League of Legends and Left 4 Dead 2 have very long play sessions, Left 4 Dead 2 is broken up into segments. These segments start and end in areas called Safe Rooms. As the name implies, the enemy team cannot spawn in them and heavy doors prevent AI controlled infected from breaking in. The Safe Room at the beginning of a level is truly a place of recovery. You take a moment to heal your wounds, restock your supplies and just prepare yourself mentally for the round ahead. It should be noted that in Versus mode – as opposed to the single player or cooperative modes – players always start at full health, so there’s no need to heal. Even so, just having that moment where you truly don’t have a worry in world is a very relaxing feeling. I found it wasn’t uncommon for even teams of total strangers to just take their time and chat with their team a little before putting their game faces on and getting the competition underway.

In addition, Left 4 Dead 2 has a lot of moments over the course of a level that evoke a similar feeling. Often, there will be rooms where it’s difficult or impossible for the infected team to attack, such as a trailer on the second level of The Parish. In these lesser imitations of a Safe Room, players can again take a moment to relax and lick their wounds while figuring out how they’re going to proceed. As with the Safe Rooms, casual conversation often finds its way into these moments and these are the times when teammates tend to get to know each other a little better.

League of Legends doesn’t really have an equivalent to Ozu’s meals or Left 4 Dead 2’s Safe Rooms. In the chat before the game, a team will be focused on their composition as I explained previously and once the game has actually started there’s always something to worry about. It takes about two minutes for creeps to spawn when playing a traditional League of Legends game on Summoner’s Rift, but even then players don’t have much time to lollygag. Setting up protection for your jungler or going after a level one gank will require immediate attention. Sometimes, teams will be content to leave each other alone, which provides about a minute of relaxation. Once that’s over, though, forget about it. Time wasted is time better spent on farming creeps or reacting to an enemy push. The only real break players have is when they teleport back to heal or purchase an item, or are killed. Obviously, the latter is not a good thing, and the former is something done alone and kept to a minimum whenever possible. The only time a team can really relax as a together is when they’re absolutely obliterating their opponents, and that’s really not the same.

Even in that one minute of peace I mentioned earlier, though, League of Legends has another handicap when compared to Left 4 Dead 2 – it lacks in-game voice chat. It’s a lot harder to have any sort of casual conversation when you have to willingly remove your ability to play the game effectively to reply to someone. Because of this, a lot of in-game communication is done through pinging, which is when a player temporarily marks a point on the their team’s mini-map. This sometimes restricts players to saying little more than “GL HF” when a game starts and “GG” when it ends. Without moments of safety and recovery, team bonding is difficult enough in League of Legends, but without a voice chat, the likelihood of a team of strangers gaining a sense of comradery becomes even slimmer.  In fact, players almost never even refer to each other by their screen names while playing. Instead, they refer to each other by the names of the characters they’re playing. One could make a strong argument that it’s just part of the game’s jargon at this point, but the sense of detachment that it symbolizes shouldn’t be ignored.


So, at the end of the day, why does League of Legends make people so mad? Clearly, it’s not a simple answer. A myriad of factors can be listed, but the gist of it is that League of Legends encourages more competition than cooperation. It’s not just the fact that the game takes a long time to play and has small teams that need excellent teamwork to succeed. Left 4 Dead 2 is evidence of that, as it has those traits as well, but creates less aggression and intensity by encouraging cooperation over competition.

I hope that this pair of articles has explained that adequately, because it’s important to understand both as an outsider looking in at the League of Legends community and as a player within the community itself. When a player gets mad during a bad round of League of Legends, nothing’s wrong with them. They’re not an angry person. League of Legends is just built to bring out that kind of emotion. It’s neither a bad thing nor a good thing. It’s simply intense by design.

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